Director Romain Gavras: “You become crazy when you don't embrace your environment"

We speak to <b>Romain Gavras</b>, the controversial director who caused a shitstorm with his ginger genocide promo for M.I.A.'s Born Free, about his bracing first feature film <i>Our Day Will Come</i>

Feature by Jamie Dunn | 01 Aug 2011

It’s only the second day of the 65th Edinburgh International Film Festival but I think I’ve already seen one of its gems. I say think, because the movie in question is so quixotic, so out there, so deliciously bonkers that it’s hard to make much sense of it. The film is Our Day Will Come (Notre Jour Viendra) and thankfully I’m pencilled in to interview its director, Romain Gavras, best known in the UK for his controversial music videos, who will hopefully help shed light on some of his debut feature’s mysteries.

“Basically it's kind of a stupid story treated very seriously, to capture some of the confusion of people at certain moments in their lives,” the 30-year-old Parisian, his eyes barely visible through a dense mass of coal black curly hair, tells me as he rolls a cigarette. The confused people he refers to of are two French redheads: Rémy (Olivier Barthelemy), a teenage loner who’s struggling with his sexuality, and Patrick (Vincent Cassel), a middle-aged psychoanalyst who takes the younger man under his wing. Both are outcasts because of their hair colour, or at least they believe themselves to be, and they set off on a bizarre journey to join their ginger brethren in the Republic of Ireland.

The seeds of Our Day Will Come are evident in Gavras’ infamous promo for M.I.A.’s Born Free, which depicts a fascistic police unit rounding up redheads, driving them to the desert and forcing them at gunpoint to run across a minefield. While this ginger genocide can be read as a crude metaphor for the persecution of minorities, the political and social symbolic significance of Rémy and Patrick's auburn locks is rather more opaque, given that they are painted throughout the film as both the oppressed and the oppressors. Particularly unsympathetic is Patrick, a misanthrope who along the way delivers antisemitic monologues, beats up a group of Arabs, and performs a depraved act in a hot tub in front of a horrified paraplegic. My interviewee is having none of it though. “I don't want to lead the spectator like a child through the film, explaining Vincent’s character is like this because of this and that. I want to leave it open.”

Gavras may not be willing to reveal the subtext behind Patrick and Rémy’s bizarre actions, but I press him on the theme of tribalism that saturates his work, from the violent street gang in his promo for Justice's Stress to the boy racer motor-heads in his video for DJ Mehdi’s Signature. “In France, when I was younger, it was not like the perfect hippy world or anything but everyone was kind of together: black people, Arab people, everyone was French and kind of got along,” Gavras explains. “But in the last ten years or so I feel that, in France at least, there's been a return – a really hardcore return – by people to their own communities.” Gavras’ film, however, isn’t merely a lament to the failure of multiculturalism. It’s a dystopian vision of how such tribalism can turn toxic. “You become crazy when you don't embrace your environment and retreat back, in a stubborn way, to your own community.”

It’s hard to imagine Gavras’ uncompromising style finding similar mainstream success to, say, fellow French music video director turned filmmaker Michel Gondry, his major hurdle being that his use of violence seems to inflame both the left and the right – although, in the case of Our Day Will Come the violence is less visceral than his video work, and more psychological. When I put this to Gavras, he’s quick to highlight his critics’ hypocrisy. “It's really weird when people say to me, 'Oh you only do violent stuff'. I think it is really violent, the world today. I feel surrounded by violence. I get banned from YouTube for the M.I.A. video, for example, but you can still watch Saddam Hussein being hanged on there? We get exposed all day long to those crazy, violent images,” Gavras punches the palm of his hand forcefully several times, thud, thud, thud, “and it's hard for me not to reflect it back into what I do.”

Our Day Will Come is screening at the ICA, London until 18 Aug, and is released on DVD 22 Aug by Optimum Home Entertainment

DVD special features include a "making of" documentary and three of Gavras' music videos: M.I.A. – Born Free; Justice – Stress; and DJ Mehdi – Signature